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coming up -- lucky severson on the 500th anniversary of the first public showing of what many call the world's greatest painting. >> it's the most important piece of art that's ever been made. >> also, deborah potter previews the new movie, from the best-selling book, the "life of pi." it's the story of an indian boy whose faith is tested when he is shipwrecked and his only company is a man-eating tiger. >> and rabbis hoping to raise awareness of hunger by living on food stamps for one week.
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>> welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. a week after the presidential election, the u.s. catholic bishops vowed to remain active on several hot-button issues, including gay marriage, which, despite the bishops' opposition, was legalized by voters in three states.
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at their annual fall meeting in baltimore, the bishops also voted down a statement on poverty and the economy. those opposed argued it was not strong enough and failed to significantly highlight church teachings on social justice. meanwhile, the bishops voted unanimously to push for sainthood for dorothy day, co-founder of the catholic worker movent. day died in 80. she spearheaded a nationwide effort to help the poor and homeless. according to new figures from the census bureau, more than 49 million americans, close to one in six, lived in poverty last year. that number reflects a new approach to calculating poverty that takes into account money spent on healthcare, childcare and other living expenses. it also factors in government aid such as food stamps and tax credits. the new model does not replace the government's traditional way
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of determining how many americans live in poverty. the number for 2011 under that system was slightly lower, 46 million. religious leaders from several national organizations urged congress to do more to address homelessness and provide more money for subsidized housing. gathered outside a mixed income housing unit in washington, d.c., the interfaith group called affordable housing crucial to fighting poverty. >> people of faith gather in partnership because the biblical vision of shalom, which is often translated in english as wholeness, includes a world in which there is enough for everyone. president obama this week toured areas in new york city still grappling with the aftermath of hurricane sandy. the president met with first responders and victims. faith-based relief groups continue to help with the clean-up.
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the relief arm of the southern baptist convention says it will provide meals through december. and islamic relief usa announced it will partner with the church of jesus christ of latter day saints, the mormons, to deliver supplies to heavily hit parts of new york and new jersey. there were sharp words exchanged between china and the dalai lama as the number of self-immolations by tibetans grew dramatically. speaking in japan, the dalai lama called for an investigation into the causes behind t immolations and faulted china for seeing buddhism as a threat. china meanwhile once again accused the dalia lama of glorifying the suicides. at least ten tibetans inside china set themselves on fire in the last two weeks to protest china's policy on tibet. we have a special
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commemoration today of what many say is the world's greatest work of art, michelangelo's ceiling of the sistine chapel in the vatican. it's en 0 years since that masterpiece was first opened to public view. as lucky severson reports, michelangelo's images have shaped the way millions of people think of god. and they still provoke controversy about exactly what michelangelo had in mind about the relationship between man and god. >> reporter: of all the magnificence of the vatican, there is likely nothing of more artistic consequence than the pope's own personal chapel within the vatican -- the sistine chapel, more specifically its ceiling. it took michelangelo buonarroti four long years to paint the famed ceiling and 500 years later it stands for many as the most powerful portrayal of man's relationship to god. art historian bridget goodbody.
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>> it wouldn't be too hard to say that it's the most important piece of art that's ever been made. >> reporter: important not only to catholics, but to christians of many denominations. in california, at the menlo park presbyterian church, pastor john ortberg has based much of his writing for books and sermons on michelangelo's images. >> on the ceiling you have this image that is glorious, transcendent, splendid, overwhelming, enormous. i mean, you just stand in there and you're kind of bowled over by it. >> reporter: michelangelo depicted the biblical creation story from the beginning through man's fall from grace. when it was first unveiled to the public in 1512, the artist giorgio vasari said the whole world could be heard running up to see it, and indeed, it s such as to make everyone astonished. at harvard divinity school, for many years the coordinator of the theological opportunities program for women was elizabeth
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dodson gray. >> i think it was enormously significant because of the effect it had upon people encouraging them to think of god as male through 500 years. i don't know how much they thought of god as male before the sistine chapel. i do know that in judaism the jews were absolutely discouraged, as you know, from doing any graven image, and so they were prohibited from drawing pictures of the almighty, the creator. >> reporter: up until then, god was mostly depicted in non-naturalistic imagery, as a spirit, an abstract form, or as a dove hovering in the sky -- essentially an impersonal diving presence. michelangelo's ceiling changed all that. >> it created an image of god that was human and superhuman
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and so the idea, if you personify god and you think about god as a white man with long white hair and a long white beard, chances are the picture is where you got that idea. >> reporter: it was the warrior pope, julius the second who commissioned michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the sistine chapel, an odd request considering that michelangelo was a sculptor who had very little experience as a painter. >> and michelangelo didn't want to do the ceiling. he really wanted to continue to sculpt, and julius insisted that he do it. >> he actually wrote in his journal, "i'm no painter." and it wasn't particularly modesty. i don't know that he was a real modest guy. it was just stating a fact. he was a sculptor, and yet he had been commissioned to do this work. and it came at a pretty substantial personal cost. >> reporter: for hundreds of years it was thought that michelangelo painted the 65 foot high ceiling while lying on his back on scaffolding. but historians now know that wasn't so.
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>> he was standing up, getting paint in his eyes and almost going blind. >> reporter: one reason michelangelo's ceiling has withstood the trials of time is the method he used to paint it, a process known as fresco where the paint is applied to wet plaster. it took a lot of painful experimenting to make it work. its central theme is humankind's need for salvation, which is portrayed in nine scenes from the book of genesis. >> you have the drunkenness of noah, you have the 40 days and 40 nights and representations of the floods and adam and eve being expelled from the garden. then there's the creation of adam and the creation of eve and the creation of the earth and the sun and the moon. that last image you find yourself in front of the altar piece, which is the last judgment and which very famously has those who are going to heaven on one side and those who are not on the other.
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>> reporter: the most iconic image of michelangelo's fresco work is the scene where god appears to be reaching down to adam, their fingers almost touching. >> his eyes are open and it appears that he is alive, but some folks have said what's taking place in that moment is not so much the impartation of biological life as that which makes us most human, or what the bible talks about as being "created in the image of god," and so, to have spirit, to be a soul, to be able to be connected with god, to be a moral agent. all of that's what is happening at that moment. >> reporter: art historian goodbody says she paid an extra admission fee so she could spend two hours in the sistine chapel studying the ceiling all by herself. >> it's such a great painting because you have sort of god very energetic and the wind pushing his hair back and sailing through the -- he's very determined.
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you know, he's just created the universe, after all. now he's gonna, you know, humans are gonna rise up, he's gonna make man in his own image. >> reporter: this is the part where elizabeth dodson gray, the feminist theologian, and thor of three books, takes exception. >> it was a great picture, bad theology, very bad theology. "god created man in his own image." okay? and if we say that a picture's worth a thousand words, and truly the picture in the sistine chapel is probably worth a thousand words, if you understand the sociology of knowledge as we now do, what really makes a difference was the male of the species created god in his own image. so actually the energy of creation went up, rather than down. >> reporter: what do you mean when you write about the narcissus effect with michelangelo's ceiling? >> well if you look at the caravaggio picture, when narcissus looks in the water and only sees his face.
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and the sentence i wrote is that the male of the species saw only himself when he looked in the cosmic pool of ultimate mystery. >> reporter: more traditional christian views have not represented god in the female form, but in pastor ortberg's view, women have been an important and positive part of god's message. >> oh, i think it's unquestionably a point worth noting. sometimes in the scripture there are feminine analogies used. jesus says at one point, "you know how often i would have gathered you like a mother hen gathers her chicks but you would not let me." so i think one of the hard things is, because in the bible we talk about god as father, people can think about god as masculine the way that a human being is masculine. >> reporter: goodbody, now the curator of, sees a modern resonance for michelangelo's imagery. >> i've been spending a lot of time thinking about it and as i
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go through the scientific imagery, i seem to find michelangelo's creation of adam picture frequently displayed. you know, this sort of god giving energy to a test tube baby or a dna molecule. it's pretty tricky when you start to get into this conversation about creation. and who creates? was it god that's creating it? or are we at a point in history and in time when we're creating life? >> reporter: pastor ortberg believes the significance of michelangelo's masterpiece is the message it imparts. >> i think part of what gave art so much power for michelangelo was not just the need to shock folks that might become complacent, but the vision of a transcendent order and the idea that we live in a world that has meaning and has moral beauty,
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and that human life is about something, and wanting to point people to something beyond themselves, wanting to point people to that hope. >> reporter: after nearly 500 years, the sistine chapel's ceiling was getting dimmer with age, but it has since undergone a complete restoration, preparing it for the 21st century and more generations to come. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm lucky severson. this week the movie "the life of pi" opens nationwide and we have a preview today from deborah potter, who spoke with the film's director and screen writer. pi is an indian boy who believes in hinduism, islam and christianity but whose faith in god is tested when he is shipwrecked and his only company is a man-eating tiger. >> reporter: on the surface, it's an adventure story about a boy who survives a shipwreck in
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a lifeboat, alone, except for a man- eating tiger. but at a deeper level, "life of pi" explores the meaning and endurance of faith -- an unusual theme for a hollywood movie that critics have called "dazzling" and "magical." for director ang lee, the experience of translating the best-selling novel to the screen required a leap of faith. >> it is a journey, as a test of the strength of our faith, of how firm we believe in it. i think that has to be the number one thing i took from the experience. >> reporter: in some ways, the story of young piscine patel, kwn as pi, fies belief from the start. the son of a zoo keeper, the boy is raised hindu but also practices christianity and islam, to the disappointment of his father. >> you cannot follow three different religions at the same time, piscine. >> why not?
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>> because believing in everything at the same time is the same as not believing in anything at all. listen, instead of leaping from one religion to the next, why not start with reason. in a few hundred years, science has taken us farther in understanding the universe than the religion has in 10,000. >> science can teach us more about what is out there, but not what is in here. >> i much rather have you believe in something i don't agree with than to accept everything blindly, and that begins with thinking rationally. you understand? good. >> i would like to be baptized. >> the openness to faith that it asks for in others, without preaching, is what i think attracted me to the book to begin with and i think it's what i am most pleased with in the telling of the film. >> god, i give myself to you.
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i am your vessel. whatever comes, i want to know, show me. >> reporter: stranded in the ocean, pi senses god's presence and power in the beauty of nature, stunningly conveyed in 3d, but like job in the old testament, he also rails at god for his suffering. >> what more do you want? >> he finds more and more of what surrounds him stripped away until finally he's got nothing left to hold onto. it's almost as though god is putting him through a further trial and saying, "okay, that was just the beginning. now you've got to confront me." >> okay, everybody ready for pi today? >> reporter: at georgetown university, professor barbara mujica's freshman seminar on faith, fiction and film is studying the life of pi. the story has become a fixture
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in comparative religion courses for college students across the country. >> like god, reason is used to conceptualize things that you don't understand. >> this book really resonates with them. first of all it's about a young person, just a few years younger than they are. it's a book that doesn't preach any religion. i think that the notion of finding the value in different religious traditions really, really resonates with them because they're not close minded, they're curious. at the same time we've also talked about not simply accepting everything, that pi doesn't have a kind of touchy feely kind of faith. and he understands that there are kernels of truth, and the same kernel of truth, in all of these belief systems. >> reporter: from noah and the ark to the garden of eden, bible stories echo through the life of pi.
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the name of the ship, tsimtsum, comes from the jewish mystical teaching that god contracted to make room for creation. and then there's the tiger, a god-like figure whose very presence keeps pi alive. >> i see the tiger as a transcendent being because he's so powerful, because he's so beautiful, because he's, he's so incomprehensible, unfathomable, and has life and death in his power, in his paws. >> reporter: as an adult, pi meets with a writer, who's heard that his story "will make you believe in god." >> i didn't know hindus say "amen." >> catholic hindus do. >> catholic hindus? >> get to feel guilty before hundreds of gods instead of just one. >> but you're a hindu first? >> none of us knows god until someone introduces us. >> reporter: so is a film about a man's search for god aimed at helping audiences find god? >> you know, you cannot tell somebody a story, or show them a movie, for them to believe in god. it wouldn't be that easy.
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you have to go through suffer and pain, you have to be in awe. you have to go through tests to believe in god, or not believe in god in some cases. >> to my mind it doesn't say you have to believe in god, it doesn't say you shouldn't believe in god. it says have faith in the stories that take you through your experience with life and if they take you to god, they take you to god, and if they take you in other directions, that's fine, but listen to the stories. >> reporter: and as pi himself says in telling his story, "you'll decide for yourself what to believe." for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm deborah potter in new york. as thanksgiving approaches, jewish rabbis and cantors across the nation are hoping to raise awareness of hunger in america. as part of the third annual jewish community food stamp challenge, they have agreed to try to live on no more than $31.50.
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that's a week. that's the average sum a person in need receives through the federal food stamp program. rabbi lenny gordon is one of those undertaking the challenge. we joined him as he began his week at mishkan tefila synagogue in chestnut hill, massachusetts. >> i am doing the food stamp challenge, and many of my colleagues are doing it during this week before thanksgiving. and i am sure that this will inform our teaching to our communities, our community thanksgiving events, and our thanksgiving meals. starting off my own personal food stamp challenge with a day with our teenagers is actually very important for me. we're going to do a little menu planning and shopping trip planning before we go to sort of think about what we are going to be looking for, and then to go out there and price it and try as we're going through, creating what essentially will be for me my week's food supply.
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coming off the book and film, "the hunger games," the kids came up with this idea that the theme for the year is hunger is no game. >> $1.89, $1.50. so we're saving some money. >> the point is to always hold in mind that we're trying to replicate an experience that is not a game. for a slice of people who have to choose between rent, medication, food, that you might sometimes have this as your total food budget. >> so we can put these on last, and then if we have enough for the extra second one, we will. okay. >> when you go to a supermarket, you can't just buy whatever you want. >> $28.34 is your total. >> during the days of the food stamp challenge, one of the things that, one of the repeated experiences is leaving a meal and not being sated. we're gonna have a little meal together at the end of our day today, just so that we sit down together and say, "okay, this is
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what a meal might look like for a family to sit down together, and this is what they'd be eating." for the people doing this, it's not a hardship, it's not a crisis. it's something we're doing to deepen our understanding about america. you know there's a story that i was told that, you know, sort of was transformative for me about a teacher in an elementary school looking at a girl who was falling asleep in class. and he said to her, "what's wrong? didn't you have breakfast this morning?" and she said, "no, it wasn't my turn." and it was like, yeah, you know, there are people who are making decisions with multiple kids about who can have a breakfast before they go off to school. that's what's at stake. our synagogue is involved in collecting cereals and canned soups that are given as part of a food pantry.
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the teens who are doing the gathering of materials now, during the days and weeks ahead, this year are becoming the ones who do the deliveries. the tradition of the prophets was a tradition that said whatever you are doing is not really working as long as there are people who are hungry, who are without clothing, who are without shelter. when we talk about food insecurity, when we talk about the fact that there are people who are not sure where there next meal comes from, that's where our vision needs to be. the food stamp challenge will culminate for me on shabbat. and then, as the sabbath ends, an opportunity to say, "okay, and now i can return to the normal routines of life." but a little transformed by understanding, that there are others for whom going back to normal meals is not an option. finally, at the vatican, efforts are underway to promote forms of communication both old
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and new -- pope benedict xvi this week announced the creation of an academy dedicated to the revitalization of latin. the pope called knowledge of latin, still the church's official language, indispensible for theological reflection. he hopes to encourage its study among seminarians and lay catholics. that announcement came days after the vatican said pope benedict would open his own twitter account. no word yet on whether the pope will tweet in latin. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. happy thanksgiving. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's always much more on our web site as well, including a link to the blog where rabbi gordon and others describe their food stamp experience. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at
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as we leave you, scenes of the hindu holiday of diwali, also known as the festival of lights.
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Religion Ethics Newsweekly
PBS November 18, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PST

The Sistine Chapel; Life of Pi; Jewish Com... News/Business. (2012) The Sistine Chapel; filmmaker Ang Lee discusses 'Life of Pi'; rabbis live on food stamps for one week. New. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY China 5, Us 4, Deborah Potter 3, Severson 3, Latin 3, Islam 2, Michelangelo 2, New York 2, America 2, Ortberg 2, Elizabeth Dodson 2, Julius 2, Bob Abernethy 2, Japan 1, Saints 1, Massachusetts 1, Humankind 1, New York City 1, Buddhism 1, Kwn As Pi 1
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